Love At Stake ONLY
Abbey is the lone human working for Fated Match, a company that pairs members of the supernatural community with their eternal mates. To snag a young vampire socialite as her next client, Abbey journeys to the home of Lucian Redgrave, the most respected vampire on the East Coast. But he’s not willing to recommend the agency to the vampire world… unless Abbey can first find his perfect match in a month.
As Abbey coaches Lucian through his dates, she can’t deny the chemistry between them. But humans are toys for vampires, and risking her heart isn’t a part of the plan.
Title: Love At Stake
Author: Victoria Davies
Length: 225 pages
Release Date: January 2014
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Love At Stake
by Victoria Davies
Copyright © 2014 by Victoria Davies. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“Fated Match, find your mate anytime, anywhere. How may I help you?”
Abbey twirled a pen around her fingers as she listened to the were-shifter sob into the phone.
“Yes, that does sound like a disappointment,” she agreed as the woman proceeded to describe her date in agonizing detail.
Continuing to make noncommittal noises of support, Abbey’s fingers flew over the receptionist’s keyboard. In seconds, she’d pulled up the woman’s profile and was sorting for a decent replacement for the client’s abysmal date.
“I have a were-lion available for tonight. You two have an 80 percent match rating. Not too shabby.”
The sobbing stopped.
“Yes, yes,” Abbey agreed as she pulled up the reservation page. “He’s open to weres of any variety, even were-squirrels. I can book you at Celeste’s this evening for eight o’clock. Does that suit?”
Abbey listened with half an ear to the woman’s delighted agreement.
“All right, your reservation is complete. Good luck tonight. Thank you for using Fated Match, pairing mates together since 1704.”
Abbey disconnected and pulled off her headset. This was the second disastrous date she’d had to fix in under an hour. It was shaping up to be one of those days.
She didn’t usually sit in the reception room of Fated Match. Ahead of her, wide glass doors opened onto a bustling Manhattan street. The reception room was open and airy. Several chairs were arranged along the white walls, and an array of out-of-date magazines were strewn on the coffee table in the center of the room. Too bad all the chairs were empty. When she’d first started this job, the reception room was always filled. Now they rarely got walk-ins.
Abbey tapped her hands against the white granite counter separating her from the waiting area. Their consulting rooms were down the hall to her right and she had a nice small office back there to handle her work. Right now, however, most of the dating consultants were at lunch, leaving her to man reception and handle the bad dates their clients phoned in.
Abbey’s boss emerged from the hallway.
“I keep telling you, Vivian. We need to raise our match rating. Seventy-five percent is too low. It’s starting to give us a bad rep.”
Vivian sighed and came out into the lobby.
Abbey had been working at Fated Match for five years and she still wasn’t used to the punch Vivian packed. As a siren, her boss was one gorgeous woman. Long silver-blond hair hung past her waist. With her willowy body and beautifully wide blue eyes, she always looked as if she’d stepped from some lucky man’s wicked fantasy.
Abbey fought the urge to slump further down in her seat. It wasn’t Vivian’s fault the siren pricked at her insecurities. Abbey was no match for her boss’s elegant height. Instead she was short and curved. Curved being a nice way of saying she could stand to lose a few pounds. Or twenty.
Her curly brown hair might be nice with the proper styling but Abbey was more of a clip-it-back-and-pray kind of girl. She rather liked her smoky green eyes, but when one worked with clients who sported exotic purple or dazzling sapphire gazes, it was hard to compete. Yes, being the human member of Fated Match was not all it was cracked up to be.
“If we raise our match rating we won’t be able to cover our date requests,” Vivian said, leaning against the white counter. Even slouched, there was no mistaking the elegant lines of her body. “We haven’t had a new client in months.”
Abbey chewed her fingernail. There was no denying the problem. A few decades ago, matchmaking had been easy. After all, they had been the only show in town. But now, thanks to Internet dating, their clients had more options. Especially those just looking for a date and not an eternity.
“We could hold another mixer,” Abbey said. “You know, show the were-deer that the were-tigers aren’t as bad as they fear. So many of our clients refuse to date outside their species.”
“It’s a thought,” Vivian agreed. “But we need more. We need a high-profile client. If the community sees their leaders using our service, they will follow suit.”
“Who do you have in mind?” Each race was led by a select few elders, members of the community who were centuries old and had the experience, and the funds, to ensure the survival of their people. Problem was, only a few elders lived in New York and none of them had ever shown any interest in Fated Match. Why would they? After the years they’d lived, most of the old ones were set in their ways and uninterested in change, no matter what their species.
“I just got a call from Melissa Redgrave.”
Abbey sat up straighter. “The vampire socialite?”
“The very same. She wants to sign up.”
Vivian shook her head. “There’s a problem. Her sire.”
The infamous Lucian Redgrave.
Abbey nodded her understanding. The man was the vampire lord of New York. In nonhuman terms, he was basically king of the undead, at least in this part of the country. The human world knew him as a powerful but reclusive CEO. He came out for a few photo ops every now and then but mostly kept to himself in his spacious mansion outside the city. In supernatural circles, he was well known for his resistance to change.
“Melissa wants to use us but Lucian refuses until he’s vetted us thoroughly.”
Abbey frowned. “Both of you are old as dirt. Surely you’ve met before?”
“The man hates sirens. No accounting for taste.” She flicked a strand of silver hair over her shoulder. “You need to drive out there and give our pitch.”
Abbey blinked. “No.”
“Abbey, this is no time to be difficult. We need to land Melissa.”
“I don’t go near vampires. You know that. The bloodsuckers are far too peckish when they get around humans. No way I’m driving for hours to lock myself in a house with two of them.”
“Probably more than two. They have servants, after all.”
“I’ll give you three evenings off.”
“Free time is no good if you’re dead.”
Vivian threw up her hands. “Don’t be dramatic. Lucian is a vampire elder. If he can’t hold it together, no one can. You’ll be perfectly safe.”
“Highly unlikely,” she muttered.
“I’ll let you make your own schedule next week and I’ll give you five extra vacation days. I’ll even set you up with a nice griffin I know.”
“Not interested in dating nonhumans,” Abbey said for the millionth time. “I only made a profile because it was part of my job description.”
“Whatever. You are going. Case closed.”
“Jessie can do it when she’s back from lunch. Or Chloe.”
“It has to be a human. You have no allegiance to any race and no ulterior motive to get an audience with an elder. You have no idea how in demand that vamp is.”
“I also have no way to defend myself if this goes bad.”
Perfectly manicured nails clacked on the marble countertop, a sure sign of Vivian’s waning patience. “Let me cut to the chase. If we don’t land Melissa Redgrave, I will hold you personally responsible. You will be fired immediately and without a reference, and you know as well as I do that matchmaking is a small world. One word from me and no agency in this town will touch you, human or otherwise. You’ve got a good thing going here, Abbey. It would be a shame to lose it.”
More than a shame, it’d be disastrous, and Vivian knew it. As a college dropout, Abbey had few prospects to begin with. Matchmaking was work she excelled at, and if she ever did leave Fated Match, it would be for another agency. But Vivian could ruin all her credibility with a few well-placed words. Then it’d be back to waiting tables and tearing her hair out trying to make rent.
The siren didn’t look at all regretful of her vicious promise. “Take a recruitment briefcase with you. Everything you need to sign up Melissa Redgrave is in there. I’ll text you the address and you can use one of the company cars. Oh, and change into something a little more professional.”
Abbey looked down at her T-shirt, which read “Team Human.”
“I think it suits the situation just fine.”
Vivian flounced away without another word.
Abbey sighed, twirling in her swivel chair. Not only did she not want to waste time driving out to the sticks, but she also didn’t relish convincing a ridiculously old vamp to loosen up a bit. But she needed this job.
She headed for her office. She always kept a spare change of clothes in there. In this line of work, one never knew what the day would bring. A blood splatter here, a gooey handshake there. At least her job wasn’t boring.
Grabbing her respectable black pencil skirt and red blouse, she changed quickly. A silver briefcase waited by her desk, already filled with everything she’d need to recruit Melissa Redgrave.
Tossing her coat over her arm, she grabbed the case and headed out of the office. Her cell phone pinged as she walked past a smiling Vivian, no doubt with directions to the Redgraves’.
“This is a bad idea,” she tried one last time.
“Have a good drive. Try to be back before dark.”
With a roll of her eyes, Abbey stalked from the office.
Maybe she did need to find a new job. Something normal, boring, human.
Something that didn’t force her into face-to-face confrontations with men who viewed her as walking Happy Meal.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
She stared up at a mansion that looked like something out of Bram Stoker’s nightmare. How the hell had Lucian Redgrave managed to build this in Connecticut?
The palatial home was all black. Even the windows were forbidding, with dark curtains blocking out the sun. Honest-to-God turrets twisted up both sides of the home and a widow’s walk perched high on the arched roof. The whole place looked like a Gothic church having an identity crisis.
I’m checking the wanted ads as soon as I’m home, she thought, walking up to the ten-foot-tall gates blocking the drive to the house. She might not make as much as a waitress, but at least serving food didn’t require hazard pay.
But for now, she had a job to do. Squaring her shoulders, she pressed the intercom button on a pole to the right of the gates.
“Yes?” a crackling voice asked.
“Abbey Sinclair, from Fated Match, here to see Melissa Redgrave.”
A buzzer sounded before the black gates before her eased open.
Jumping back into the car, Abbey drove up to the entryway of the mansion. A servant was already waiting at the door when she parked. Not allowing herself second thoughts, she grabbed the silver briefcase, tugged her skirt into place, and marched up the steps.
“Miss Redgrave is in the study with her sire,” the aged servant told her as she stepped into the elegant foyer. “If you will follow me.”
She trailed the small old man through the spectacular foyer. Every inch of this place dripped with wealth. She’d known Lucian was successful, but what exactly did an elder do? She swallowed, remembering his penchant for blood. Maybe she was better off not knowing.
Priceless art lined the halls as they moved farther into the house. Under any other circumstance, she’d love to spend hours admiring the Renaissance paintings. Now nothing motivated her but her survival instinct. Get the job done and get out. How hard could it be?
Abbey passed under a sparkling crystal chandelier and noted the absence of natural light in the house. It was to be expected, she supposed. Vampires, especially older ones, were able to remain conscious during the day if they chose, similar to the way humans could stay up all night when they had to. But no matter how many centuries bloodsuckers lived, they never regained their human immunity to sunlight. One stray little touch of light and a vampire’s skin burst into flame.
“Right in here, miss.”
Snapping back to the present, Abbey glanced at a sturdy oak door.
“Shall I announce you?”
She nodded. “Please.”
The servant knocked lightly before pushing the door open. “Miss Sinclair to see Miss Redgrave,” he said, bowing.
I’m up, she thought. Lifting her chin, she sailed into the room.
She didn’t know what she’d expected from the room, but it wasn’t a magnificent library with shelves upon shelves of pristine leather-bound books. A dark fireplace was built into one wall, and comfortable armchairs littered with novels encircled it. Her gaze shifted to the massive mahogany desk dominating the room. A man sat behind it, his fingers steepled. By his side stood a lovely young woman who beamed as Abbey approached.
With a clinical eye, Abbey scanned the woman she presumed was Melissa. She would do well in their dating pool, Abbey was sure. Her fair skin and deep burgundy hair had obviously not seen the sun in decades, but she was slim and delicate. She’d rouse the protective instincts of their more alpha clients.
Abbey’s gaze turned to the man behind the desk. Ice-blue eyes met hers. The ancient vampire watched her without expression but even so, everything about him screamed predator. She was painfully aware of the blood pumping through her veins and the knowledge that he could take it from her in a second.
His clothes were old-fashioned, as if he’d stepped from the stage of a regency play. She’d swear the cravat at his throat was perfectly tied. The dark riding jacket fit him like a glove, showing off his lean, honed physique. Her gaze moved higher as her heart sped up just a tad. The man was beautiful. Not “pretty in the right light” beautiful, but “move over George Clooney” beautiful. Piercing blue eyes watched her approach and his full lips tightened, no doubt in disapproval. His black hair was pulled back in a queue so nothing softened the striking planes of his face. He looked hard, dangerous, and just a little bit too enticing. Like a fallen angel ready to take her soul with a smile.
Abbey stopped before the desk, pulling her professional facade around her like armor.
“Mr. Redgrave, Miss Redgrave, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Abbey Sinclair and I am a representative of Fated Match. Thank you for your interest in our organization.”
Melissa’s grin widened. “I’ve been wanting to try your services for decades. My friends rave about your matches.”
Abbey transferred her attention to Melissa, figuring she was the easier sell. “We have a very high success rate for those looking for long-term relationships.”
Melissa nodded eagerly. “Exactly what I need. I’m ready to settle down.”
“Melissa is interested in your company but I, on the other hand, have my doubts. How can anyone promise to match mates when the bond is so innate?”
Lucian’s deep voice shook Abbey to her bones. She could just imagine how he would sound whispering dirty words in a woman’s ear. Heat pooled low in her stomach at the thought and she mentally shook herself. Vampires were off her list for a reason, sexy voice or no.
“Why don’t I walk you through the process?” she asked. “May I sit?”
Lucian didn’t reply, merely watched her with his wolf gaze.
Taking his silence for consent, Abbey perched on the high-backed chair and laid the briefcase on the desk. “We are well aware of the elusive nature of the mating bond,” she said, opening the case. “Which is why we mix science with matchmaking. Melissa, should you choose to pursue this course, I will take a swab of the inside of your cheek and a hair sample.” She held up her tools as she explained. “We’ll collect pheromones with this tissue”—she held up the object in question—“and a trace of venom if you produce any. If you have any other gifts which create a physical effect or scent, I’ll need samples of them as well.”
“What do you do with your collection?” Lucian asked.
“We run the data through an exhaustive testing procedure at our lab, which distills your physical presence into a computer program. With that information along with your personal preferences, we can run you through our database and find possible matches for you based on your biology. We will set you up on dates with matches of 75 percent or higher.”
“But a mating bond is more than genetics,” Lucian said, his gaze never leaving hers. “There is instinct, fate. How can your computer program replace seeing your mate across a crowded room and knowing she is yours?”
Abbey swallowed, wondering if the room had just grown hotter. Looking into his eyes, she almost agreed with him. How could science replace physical attraction? That animalistic combustibility everyone yearned to find just once in their lives?
“I’m sure they’ve done all the proper testing,” Melissa said.
Abbey turned her attention to the other woman gratefully. “Yes, of course.” She cleared her throat. “Matches happen even without the 75 percent rating. I know of one pair who only had a 33 percent compatibility rating and yet are deliriously happy. Mates could find each other outside of our services. We just make the process easier, eliminating the time-wasting that normally comes with searching for a partner. We don’t guarantee success, but we’ll get you on a much better footing to find your intended.”
“That’s fine by me,” Melissa said. “I think it sounds like great fun.”
“I still have reservations.” Lucian leaned back in his chair, but his relaxed pose did nothing to put Abbey at ease. If he wanted to go in for the kill, both she and Fated Match were in trouble. “Are there many humans in the program?”
Abbey bristled. Another anti-human snob. The old ones tended to remember only the times when mortals were toys to be used and thrown away. They didn’t see the advancements of the twenty-first century.
“Several,” she said, trying to keep the frost from her voice. “I am the only one on the management team, but we have a few participants who regularly date our supernatural clients.”
“And how did you find out about this world? It is not something humans normally have knowledge of.”
Her spine stiffened. She didn’t want to reveal personal information about herself to this man. Still, a job was a job.
“My mother was bitten by a were-badger when I was in my late teens. I dropped out of university to help her with the transition and was introduced to this world through her.”
“And your father?”
“Dead.” She said no more, merely held his gaze and waited.
Lucian tapped his fingers together. Both she and Melissa kept quiet as he came to his decision.
“This organization seems foolish and unnecessary,” he said at last. “But Melissa is fond of telling me I need to update myself. Very well, Miss Sinclair. I will allow my charge to become part of your dating program on one condition.”
Hope swelled within her. She was going to land Melissa after all. Vivian would be ecstatic.
“Anything,” she agreed.
A slow smile curved his lips, one that told her in no uncertain terms she was in hot water.
“Excellent. Then you will sign me up first. If you can find my mate, I shall agree to Melissa joining your company. Time to prove what you claim, Miss Sinclair. If you can.”